The Archdiocese of Washington will raise tuition at most of the 75 Catholic parish elementary schools in the District and Maryland to pay for unprecedented increases in teaching salaries of up to 35 percent over the next three years, officials said yesterday.

The tuition increases will affect more than 20,000 students, and while the amounts will vary, some schools could raise their tuition as much as $1,000 over several years. The average annual tuition rate at Catholic elementary schools now is $2,500, officials said.

"It will be a hardship, no question," said Superintendent Lawrence Callahan, adding that the archdiocese would find ways to help families that cannot pay their entire tuition bills.

Meanwhile, the Diocese of Arlington, which oversees more than 40 schools in Northern Virginia, plans to raise teacher salaries by 10 percent for each of the next three years. Students at some schools could see smaller increases if those schools find another way to absorb the cost, diocesan Superintendent Timothy McNiff said. The average tuition at Catholic elementary schools in Northern Virginia is also $2,500.

The moves reflect an acknowledgment by Catholic educators in the Washington area that they must do more to compete with public and other private schools to attract and retain qualified teachers in the face of a national shortage. Catholic school teaching salaries traditionally have been far lower than those at public schools, often so low that instructors are forced to take second jobs to pay their bills.

"The overriding issue is justice," said Vincent Clark, spokesman for the Washington Archdiocese. "Our teachers make far less than their public school counterparts, and they deserve the best living wage we can provide."

The tuition increases by the Washington Archdiocese's school officials will affect the 75 schools they directly control. About a third of them are in the District, and the rest are in the Maryland suburbs. The increases will be phased in over several years.

Callahan said the increases in teacher pay will be accompanied by a requirement that tuition payments cover 80 percent of the cost of operating a school. Currently, Catholic parishes pick up varying portions of the costs.

More than a third of the schools already charge tuition rates that cover 80 percent or more of operating costs. A third charge tuition that covers more than 70 percent. They must bring that up to 80 percent in the next fiscal year, officials said.

About a fourth of the Washington Archdiocese's schools have tuition rates that cover 50 to 70 percent of the schools' costs; they will have two years to move to 80 percent. Four schools charge rates that cover less than 50 percent of their costs, and the archdiocese will work with them to slowly raise tuition levels.

Pay for new teachers will get the largest increases under the plan, about 35 percent over three years. More experienced teachers who have higher salaries will get raises of at least 14 percent.

New teachers in the archdiocese next fall will receive 11.42 percent more than this year's new teachers get, with a 10.25 percent boost for new teachers in 2001-2002 and 10 percent in 2002-2003. Callahan said he will reevaluate in two years to determine whether the increase is enough. A new teacher now makes $20,351. By 2002-2003, a new teacher would start at $27,500--far closer to public school starting salaries. New teachers in the District are paid about $30,000.

The pay increases for teachers reflect changes in Catholic schools that have been evolving over decades, as the religious have been replaced as teachers in Catholic classrooms by lay instructors. Now more than 90 percent of teachers in Catholic schools are lay, many of them not Catholic.

Schools both public and private have in recent years witnessed a teacher shortage that has become so severe that some systems are offering major bonuses to attract new educators. The Massachusetts Department of Education has offered a whopping $20,000 signing bonus to attract college seniors and mid-career professionals, in what is believed to be the most aggressive state teacher recruitment campaign in the nation. D.C. School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman last year offered signing bonuses of at least $1,000 to new teachers.

The problem has become more acute for Catholic schools--the largest segment of private schools in the country--as enrollment has been rising over the past decade after many years of severe decline. In fact, in recent years, new Catholic schools have opened in the suburbs for the first time in decades, and some have waiting lists with hundreds of names.

Elizabeth Whelan is in her first year as principal of St. Hugh's School in Greenbelt after being a teacher in both Catholic and public schools in Maryland. She said the increase in teacher salaries is a big boost not only to teachers but also to principals.

At a school with 18 teachers, she had to hire five new ones last year.

"It was very difficult, especially because the Prince George's County school system was suffering from a teacher shortage, too, and they pay more than we do," she said. "With the new pay scale, we'll be more confident and we'll be able to offer a better way."

Whelan, who took a $10,000 pay cut in the 1980s to return to Catholic schools after teaching in a Temple Hills magnet public school, said her school charges the third-lowest annual tuition of any Catholic school in the county, $2,100. She said that probably will rise $400. Parents, she said, have voiced support for any effort that helps improve education.

Archdiocesan officials said they would help strapped families, and there are private scholarship programs, such as the Washington Scholarship Fund, that help families pay private school tuition.

Teacher Raises in Parochial Schools

The Archdiocese of Washington will be giving teachers raises ranging from more than 14 percent for the most experienced to more than 35 percent for beginners over the next three years.

Years of Current 2000-2001 2001-2002 2002-2003

experience salary

1 $20,351 $22,675 $25,000 $27,500

2 20,589 23,043 25,500 28,000

3 20,948 23,474 26,000 28,500

4 21,447 23,973 26,500 29,000

5 22,102 24,551 27,000 29,500

6 23,104 25,301 27,500 30,000

7 24,155 26,078 28,000 30,500

8 25,243 27,121 29,000 31,500

9 26,401 28,199 30,000 32,500

10 27,823 29,412 31,000 33,500

11 29,214 30,608 32,000 34,500

12 30,605 31,802 33,000 35,500

13 31,996 33,247 34,500 37,000

14 33,387 34,692 36,000 38,500

15 34,778 36,138 37,500 40,000

16 36,169 37,583 39,000 41,500

17 37,560 39,029 40,500 43,000

18 38,952 40,475 42,000 44,500

NOTES: Teachers with more than 18 years experience receive a 4 percent increase in 2000-01 and in 2002. They will receive a 6 percent increase in 2003. Teachers with a master's degree receive an additional $1,500 per year.

SOURCE: Superintendent Lawrence Callahan